Sunday, October 07, 2007

My Challenging Day of Jury Duty Last Week

This is a very long post so I apologize in advance for taking up so much of your time but it was a very long day and I had to do it justice. No pun intended.

Over the last 40 years I have served on a jury many times and I have always enjoyed the experience. I love to watch people and while waiting to be called it’s a great opportunity to view a large slice of humanity; but the day of jury duty I spent this week was by far the most comfortable, the most interesting and by far the most stressful I have every experienced in a long time.

The court system in Arizona has improved immensely over the last twenty years. With my summons came a free bus ticket and a map to a separate parking garage just for jurors. I left early expecting lots of traffic downtown because of the light rail construction but expect for a little traffic on the freeway, my trip was very quick. I arrived at the parking garage for jurors which had plenty of spaces, parked and walked over to the courts building. A shuttle was also available if you did not want to walk but I preferred to walk. I was struck by the fact that there were many large signs directing me to the courts building. As a side note the signs were only written in English.

When I arrived at the building I found that it did not open until 7:30AM so my people watching began as the wave of summoned humanity started to arrive. As soon as the building opening I approached the security checkpoint was quickly moved on to the jury assembly room. The check-in at the counter was extremely efficient, I was told to fill out a personal information form and hold it for future use. The assembly room was actually two rooms. One very large with hundreds of padded chairs, tables and several televisions and the other slightly smaller but designated as the quiet room where cell phones or any noise was not allowed making it a great place to read or knit or sleep. Telephones and wireless Internet services were also available for everyone to use. The phone service was free but there was a charge for the wifi.

I took a quick walk around the rooms. A white board on the back wall announced that there were 11 trails scheduled that day. I found a good seat to watch everyone go thru security and check in at the counter. The people watching started in earnest as I watched several hundred folks file in over the next hour or so. The group was the usual cross section of able bodied, handicapped and those that complained about being there. But justice prevailed, at least in the assembly room, because no one was excused. When everyone had checked in one of the women at the counter started our orientation. The orientation included about 20 minutes of instructions repeated at least three times and then a short video presentation. In the middle of the video presentation a bailiff came down from the courts and a large group of jurors were called and left the assembly room. The video explained the Arizona court system, juror qualifications and responsibilities. I was surprised by the juror qualifications. You must be 18 years old, an American citizen, a resident of Maricopa County and you must be fluent in English.

We were then told that 50 jurors were needed for a three-week trial. A hush came over the group as the names were called. We were asked to either answer yes or no if we thought we had a valid excuse. After 50 people said yes those of us that said no were instructed to come back to the counter and fill out an excuse form, which the judge would use to determine if our excuse was valid. Two more jury panels were called during the next 30 minutes and then they announced that they were going to call a large group of 45. As yet I had not been called since I said no to the 3 week trail but my time had come. I became one of the 45 and we followed our bailiff single file to the elevator and upstairs to the hallway outside our courtroom.

For the next hour or so we sat outside the court room while the attorneys reviewed our personal information forms. I should point out that the hallway was no where near as comfortable as the jury assembly room. There were maybe 5 chairs, an old desk sitting by the elevator, 4 marble benches and 45 of us. The bailiff had us line up by number single file along the wall. I got lucky and ended up next to a marble bench so I got to sit down, no chivalry allowed we had to stay in line so the ladies either stood up, sat in one of the few chairs or sat on the floor. At last the bailiff came out we thought to invite us in but instead he told us to go to lunch and come back in an hour. He went on to explain that the attorneys needed more jurors to select from. So off to lunch at the County food court we went.

After lunch we returned to the hallway outside of the courtroom to find that our numbers had grown to 60. The bailiff came out and ushered us into the courtroom in numerical order. We were told exactly where to sit with some us ending up in the jury box while everyone else crowded into the gallery seating area.

The next couple of hours involved the judge explaining to us the court procedures for this case as well as asking us the usual questions. Is there anyone here who does not understand and speak English well enough to understand the proceeding of the trial and to participate in the process of deliberation? Do you know me the judge, the attorneys, the defendants, or any of the jurors. Are any of us attorneys or law enforcement or do we know or have any relatives that are attorneys or law enforcement. Then we gave the usual biographical information, type of job, married, single, kids and if we had ever served on a jury before. Next we were asked if any of us had and compelling reason why we could not spend the next week or two on this trial. Then came the kicker, did any of us have feelings regarding an animal cruelty case. At this point several hands went straight up.

The judge then began to ask us individually about our answers. The judge repeated the requirements by asking is there anyone here who does not understand and speak English well enough to understand the proceeding of the trial and to participate in the process of deliberation? This was the most entertaining part of the whole day. Listening to all the excuses why people should not serve as jurors. In summary, we had no less than 20 of the 60 that had medical conditions, some serious and some not so serious. Several had friends or relatives in the law and law enforcement field but none relevant to this proceeding. One fellow was a maximum security detention office at the county jail while another developed ADHA right there in the courtroom while another claimed that the defendants mire appearance made him unsettled. The best excuse came from a fellow in his late twenty’s that said he believed in a philosophy that could find anyone guilty of anything. At the end of this first round of questions we were told to go out into the hall. In about 30 minutes the bailiff came out and read off a list of 30 names of the lucky first round folks who were excused. The rest of us had to line up again by number and file back into the courtroom.

This time it was the attorneys turn to ask questions. The prosecutor started by asking the usual about convicting on the evidence. No one really had a problem as long as the evidence was compelling beyond a reasonable doubt. Most surprising was that several people used this question to voice their concern about animal rights. The prosecutor tried to keep everyone on topic but someone said something about all the resources being used up on a 2 week trial for animal cruelty. I should point out that besides the judge, two attorneys, the judge’s staff, there was a COO, a CEO, a commercial pilot of tA320 airbus, an FAA airport inspector, two clinical psychologists, two expect witness’ in other fields plus the rest of us. At this point I too raised the issue of resources being spent on an animal cruelty case when abused and molested children cases are plea-bargained away.

Now it was the defense attorneys turn and he started by asking if anyone thought that is was not alright to defend yourself against and animal attack. Very much to my surprise several people answered that it was not ok to defend yourself. One individual stood up and said that animals especially dogs had dominion over humans. Then we heard from no less than ten folks who rescue animals into their own home. They all felt that they could not be fair and impartial. Then the attorney asked if anyone had every hunted and several of us had and we explained. At this point several people again reiterated that they rescued animals and that any violence toward them was unthinkable. The attorney asked again about defending oneself against an animal at which time I explained that I had defended my children against stray dogs and that I had no problem with it. The attorney asked if I could restate my position for clarity. So to make myself perfectly clear I said that in an encounter with a dog you can’t reason with them so you either knock them unconscious or kill them. I went on further to say that the animal type does not matter. It could be a house cat, bobcat, dog or bear but if it came at me in an aggressive manner then I would do my best to kill it. The defense attorney then pointed out that in a criminal trial that it was necessary for the defendant to take the stand or even for the attorney to put on a defense and that we should not assume any guilt from the lack of a defense. The burden of proof was completely on the prosecution. Several of us took issue with this but most had not participated in a criminal trial before. I was asked to state my understanding and I said that unless the evidence was overwhelming I would expect some type of a defense. The juror sitting directly behind me stated that he agreed with me 100%. We were then excused to the hallway for a break.

I headed for the restroom and when I came back the bailiff was looking for me and the juror who sat behind me. I came forward and was immediately taken back into the courtroom by myself to face the judge and the attorneys. The judge asked me to come forward to answer one more question. The prosecutor again asked me if I could convict based solely on his presentation of the evidence. I answered by saying that if the evidence was circumstantial then no but if the evidence was based in fact with eyewitness testimony then yes. The defense attorney they chimed in by asking why I thought he needed to present a defense. I responded that if the prosecutor presented a weak case then I would expect him to put on a strong defense up to and including having the defendant testify. At this point they were both very frustrated with me but the judge stepped in and asked if I could clarify my position one more time. I said yes and said that if the prosecutor showed me the end of a video tape of an incident that before I could render a verdict that I would expect the defense to show me the beginning of the video tape showing what started the incident. The judge said that she was satisfied that I understood the legal process in this situation and she excused me back out to the hallway. They then called in the juror sitting behind me. He came out quickly and we were all called by into the courtroom. The judge then thanked us for our patience during this very long day and the court clerk read off the names of the selected jurors. In the end of the ten that were picked, a few had never had jury duty before, a few were animal rights advocates and the rest were either out of work or had nothing to do for the rest of the week. I found an article later explaining that attorneys “want uneducated people. “Their jobs and life circumstances allow them to be neutral,”” excerpted from The Weasel's Guide to Jury Duty by Jeff Ruby.

A few things stand out in my mind after this experience. When the judge read the requirements to be a juror I felt great knowing that I could stand in judgement of a non-English speaking illegal immigrant but that dispute all efforts by the left under our system of justice an illegal immigrant could never stand in judgement of me. The numbers of people in our society that place animal life above the lives of innocent children frightens me a great deal. Being personally challenged in open court by the judge and attorneys about my stand on self defense or on my ability to honesty evaluate a situation based upon the facts has given me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction of have been challenged and won.